Thursday, September 26, 2013
Listening for God's Answers Rather than Worrying About Our Own
It's not the easiest sell in a fast-moving, "decision now" type world, yet I would hazard God speaks most clearly to us when we allow ourselves to ponder and more importantly listen attentively.
Over the past few weeks, I have been invited into a variety of church situations where decision making might seem best made "right here and right now". The need for a quick fix or something to make the anxiety of the moment go away hurriedly is often the mode we operate in as human beings as well as institutions. We do not want the pain or the uncertainty. With these churches and leaders, I shared the good word of pausing, waiting and listening. What might seem best in the moment does not necessarily lead us to the right paths, let alone "answers". Wisdom comes in the slower and deliberative, not so much when we are rattled or feel like somebody mixed anxiety with Mountain Dew!
Peter Steinke, a popular author on family systems and congregational leadership, published two influential books: How Your Church Family Works and the later volume Healthy Congregations. While I learned a great deal from these earlier works, his later volume "Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What" helped me realize there's a lot of "noise" often going on within myself, often of my own devising. Steinke's insights into understanding the anxious element helped me understand myself and in turn, the situations I was involved in as well as the personalities and behaviors of those around me. (Note: Peter Steinke's books listed above are available via the Alban Institute.)
When we handle our anxiety, we begin to think with a clearer mind and gain some perspective. We realize the energy we expend on frittering away nervously could be refocused into more constructive ways of thinking and acting. (I often joke we tend to have so much energy tied up in worrying, a church could otherwise power Las Vegas for a few months.)
Clearing our heads leads to the ability to discern carefully what God is calling us to do next. For congregations considering how to realign mission and vision or facing tough situations (i.e. pastoral transition, governance challenges, financial or property woes), handling the interior noise created by more anxiety-prone ways will open us to the possibilities before us and puzzling out the way(s) ahead. We can listen for God more perceptively now that we've allowed ourselves to quiet down the nerves and interior chatter within.
What is God saying to us now that we are listening?
To have a good conversation about tough questions, your regional ministry staff is available to come to your church and help out! Dr. Kelsey offers a workshop around Gil Rendle's Journey in the Wilderness: New Life for Mainline Churches (Abingdon, 2009). I am glad to come and speak with your leaders about strategic planning tools to rethink ministry and realign a church for missional purposes. We are also available to assist with conflict resolution (Jim Kelsey) and understanding transition in churches and pastoral seasons of ministry (Jerrod). All of these services are brought to you by your congregation's support of the Regional Offering and United Mission!
For books on discernment (personally or corporately), authors Judith Todd and Valerie Isenhower offer two great books from Upper Room Books:
Listening for God's Leading: A Workbook for Corporate Spiritual Discernment
Living into the Answers: A Workbook for Personal Spiritual Discernment